STIFF Leaps into Brave New Worlds

'Bristel Goodman'

The Seattle True Independent Film Festival has rechristened itself. Though its acronym remains STIFF, it made its bow as the Seattle Transmedia and Independent Film Festival last Friday.

STIFF remains a film festival, of course, and its selections on that front can’t be faulted. Programmer Will Chase has cherry-picked some impressive shorts and features that run the gamut from earnest documentaries to bracing flights of untethered imagination. In many cases, STIFF sports entries every bit as strong as anything on the itinerary for the looming Seattle International Film Festival.

But Friday’s Opening Night presentations marked a turning point for STIFF, and a reflection of a fascinating fork in the road for the art of modern storytelling in general. Transmedia, simply put, refers to the use of multiple platforms in telling a story. Marvel Comics’ current run of comic-book-based superhero films, running parallel with TV shows and comics that also explore and expand on the Marvel universe, provide the most prominent mainstream example of late, and STIFF’s two opening-night films represented apt examples of the buzzword on a more DIY—but no less ambitious—level. 

The inaugural episode of locally-made web series Phoenix Run and New York-shot feature film Bristel Goodman screened. The former, directed by Andy TJ Walker and Rick Walters, posits a future world in which nanotechnology begets artificially-created superheroes, which begets a nanovirus pandemic. It’s an intriguing mythology-in-the-making, and the epitome of this new, multi-tiered storytelling: Walker and Walters have developed an interactive online comic, smartphone app, and a video game to augment the universe they’ve created (you can see more details here). “Home,” the web series’ first installment, made for a promising intro—fast-paced, well acted (especially by lead Connor Marx), and garnished with some low-key but impressive effects. Bristel Goodman likewise holds transmedia connections. The web series-based feature about an Iraq war vet who witnesses the murder of his would-be girlfriend online provides an interesting anomaly, by being a mid-oughts period piece as well as a genuinely absorbing (if sometimes predictable) thriller.

In addition to the slate of films, STIFF has also converted the space at 50th and University Way (formerly Trinidadian restaurant Pam’s Kitchen) into a separate digital media gallery. The two-story structure’s temporary incarnation will remain open at least through the end of STIFF, with a possibility of continuing on after the festival, and if the initial execution was rough (Ascent, a much-anticipated Oculus Rift presentation, was MIA at the time of opening), there was (and is) plenty of interesting content. The festival deserves major props for exploring the cutting edge of technology on a low budget.

STIFF continues on through May 9, and lest all this talk of brave new technology frighten you, the films that form the 2015 fest’s backbone for the duration are uniformly strong. The best of the bunch may be Witness Bahrain, a stunning on-the-front-lines documentary covering the Arab Strip’s profound unrest, shot in secret by local filmmaker Jen Marlowe. It literally wouldn’t exist without modern technology, and it’s as profound an endorsement of transmedia’s promise as anything else that’ll be presented this week.

Tickets for the remaining STIFF films and presentations, and more information, can be found at STIFF’s website.

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